Can’t let this go, somehow


Funny thing. Call me an asshole and I may wince, but I usually take a perverse glee in having gotten under someone’s skin. Call me an environazi extremist elitist and I feel like I’ve done my job correctly. But an aimless, bored group of people with their thumbs up their asses who decide — without taking the time to, you know, look for a resume, or a biography, or a clue — that I haven’t accomplished enough in my life to impress them? That gets under my skin.

It’s ironic, in a sense, because I’ve a lifelong allergy to trumpeting my achievements. I do have some achievements of which I’m proud, but that pride is mine, dammit, and no one else’s. And the odd thing is, the gross physical and career accomplishments — the résumé items and the repeated scooping of the New York Times at EIJ and that kind of stuff — aren’t by any stretch of the imagination the things of which I’m proudest. The accomplishments that mean the most to me are the gains I’ve made in understanding the world around me, and the small degree to which I share some of those gains through my writing.

Just because the smug and ignorant in that thread don’t seem to have the capacity to understand that kind of achievement, it doesn’t make it any less an achievement. So why do Those Of The Implanted Thumbs penetrate the shields so much?

Part of it, of course, is the fact that like almost every other person I know who shared some of the special-snowflake educational experience I had, the “not living up to potential” is a Weapon of Morale Destruction. It’s the evil opposite of the Special Olympics: Nothing we did was ever good enough. It didn’t matter, in my case and to take one example, that I was 13, had received less than half an hour of homework guidance from my parents in my entire life, and that the subject I wasn’t doing well enough in was calculus. It’s an evil, emotionally abusive trope, because there is always a “better” that could conceivably be reached with only a little more superhuman effort, and what kid doesn’t want to please the local adults?

It doesn’t matter that these people can’t be bothered to do a little more investigation than reading a blog post or two before dismissing me, by full name in a site indexed by Google, as someone who hasn’t tried hard enough, or even worse as someone whose lack of achievement is sadly understandable given the traumas to which I was subjected. It doesn’t matter that these people have a conception of “gifted child” probably derived from the borderline-abusive wish fulfillment that they visit on their own hapless kids, mixed in with some dimly remembered scenes from Doogie Howser and Good Will Hunting, or else the obverse of that stereotype, driven mainly by resentment of their own perceived failure to measure up to the reviled straw-gifted. I know all this, and somehow it doesn’t matter. They hit the “Mom and Dad” button, they inadvertently parrot the most destructive things told me by one or two utterly unqualified teachers, and I reel.

I think the thing I resent most is the defensiveness they make me feel, the urge to wave the resume at them and say “see?” as if it’s any of their goddamn business, as if they’d be swayed even a little by accomplishments in fields they devalue. I tell myself what i should feel is pity for their kids, who face a best-case scenario of finding some measure of inner peace after some years of shutting their parents out of their lives completely.

I generalize, of course. I commit the same sin of which I accuse them, judging their entire lives based on something even smaller than a blog post. This is the thing: the medium does this to us. “Chris Clarke” ceases to be a living, breathing person with hot buttons, or with a need for employment over the next 30 or so years upon which their idle, uninformed, anonymous and Googlable speculation could conceivably infringe. We become screens on which people project their assumptions. We become television characters. I got email last year from people I knew only by internet pseudonym in which they told me all the reasons getting a divorce was a bad idea. I get off easy. People in the nastier world of political blogging get reduced all the way to cardboard cutouts. Amanda becomes a Monster Big Name Feminist Blogger, brownfemipower becomes a Convenient Stick To Hit Amanda With, and the wonderful, vibrant compassion and outrage and brilliance and inevitable beautiful or regrettable flaws each has are reduced to rhetorical strategies.

The people dissecting me in public in that thread are almost certainly, for the most part, kind, caring people who are trying to do their best in the world, for their families and for themselves, with some of them quite likely taking time to make the greater world a better place. I suspect that if they knew the effect their words had on the person they’re discussing, most of them would feel a pang of regret.

My job right now is to stop actively wishing that pang would hit them hard, and soon.

42 thoughts on “Can’t let this go, somehow

  1. Rana Ravens

    You’ve hit so many nails on the head here it’s hard to know where to begin. 

    That people think that they “know” a person entirely on the basis of reading what that person chooses to put online -it’s like the weirdness of celebrity gossip imposed on ordinary people.

    That there’s something weird and dysfunctional in a certain flavor of parental obsessiveness that seems prevalent in our society today.

    That too-high expectations can be as damaging to one’s spirit as those that are too low (I live with this one daily -I’ve found equilibrium only by the brutal expedient of regarding all praise with cynicism and suspicion, and a reluctance to express pride, lest it presage a fall.)

    That it is hard to shrug off the idle comments of people one knows are in no position to judge one -that the dispassionate knowledge of their irrelevance runs smack into the emotional blow one feels upon seeing one’s psyche laid out for casual analysis by indifferent strangers.

    I’m reluctant to wish you stronger shields, because so much of what I appreciate about your writing is the way you transform those blows into thoughtful meditations on the nature of the world and life on the internet.  So I will wish instead that the people with Implanted Thumbs will read some of your other posts, get up off their thumbs and away from their computers, and do something positive for a change.

  2. nezua

    DUDE. Not Living Up To His Potential was the biggest hit on my report card playlist. I OWN that line. Good lord. And yet, not once did anyone articulate what that potential was.

    Eh, anyway. I’m done with all that. All them.

    This is the thing: the medium does this to us.

  3. amandyman

    Along with the ol’ “doesn’t work to full potential” I also got a lot of “inconsistent work” comments. As if the little worker bees can all produce! produce! produce! constantly and consistently over time without needing a mental break from their so-called potential.

    The ease with which the urbanbaby (gah, can I at least judge them for their name?) members dissect a stranger from the internet’s life is appalling.

  4. nezua

    Yeah, I saw that vid when you posted it on Twitter. Puts me into the mood to do a little Goatblogging. Oh, wait, I am already. MAAaaaaAAaAAAaAAaA!

  5. Chris Clarke

    MAAaaaaAAaAAAandyman! Didn’t see you there. Yeah, the “inconsistent work” thing gets me too. It’s like being penalized for having moments of relative inspiration.

    Seriously, the stereotypes about how “gifted” minds work are appalling. It’s as if your experiences, goals, desires and dreams are discounted unless you spend all your time consistently being so much more intelligent and productive than the dismissive commenters that they’re dazzled by the sheer magnitude of your intelligence relative to theirs.

    I mean seriously. You know? Hellooooo. Some of us need more of a challenge than that.

  6. nezua

    no…i dont really think those types are there to be impressed, my friend. honestly or otherwise. wouldnt matter what a Gifted Mind did. the point is, they need someone to look down on so they seem the Gifted one. there is no winning at a game referred by a thief.

  7. arvind

    And arvind? I expected so much more of you.

    What can I say? I’m just too well-grounded. I can’t help but dissipate any potential.

  8. Orange

    Honestly, I don’t know why you’ve been wasting time being content in the desert rather than spending your life feeling restless in a lab. Don’t you understand that self-fulfillment is a lousy goal? That appreciation of beauty doesn’t count unless you can add it to your C.V.?

    Tell the Urbanbaby people you quit your job to spend time with Zeke and you just might make some heads explode.

    I was in the gifted group but not accelerated too much in school. Did OK in college (GPA of 3.004!), never went to grad school, am super-good at crosswords and editing, kinda lazy, and overall quite happy with my life.

    I have a friend who was the smallest kid in his class

  9. Lilian Nattel

    I’m sorry that they pushed your buttons in that way. Some things just touch a raw nerve. And this sort of thing also plays into a larger social pressure. Our society teaches a lot of lies about hierarchy of value: ie the more you achieve (defined in terms of money rewards & popularity), the higher your status. Knowing that the definition of achievement is flawed and that the status is illusory doesn’t mean that it has no effect on people. But you can always come back to yourself and your own truth and knowledge of what matters. And you can stand strong in yourself.

  10. Rana Ravens

    Of course, there’s the irrationality of people of lesser intelligence being deemed competent to judge what a person of greater intelligence is capable of… at least if you buy into that whole idea in the first place.

    Sometimes I wonder if the “fails to live up to his/her potential” is the grade equivalent of “children are starving in Africa, so finish your dinner!”  It’s really about someone failing to meet your expectations, regardless of whether they are reasonable or not, and guilting them over it -and not really about their potential.

    We ALL have the potential to do far more than we do -yet somehow I suspect that the potential concern trolls aren’t out trying to learn a second language in their spare time either.  Yelling at the “gifted” for not using their abilities is like sneering at people on food stamps who buy a candy bar now and then.  It’s about feeling superior, not about any real concern about undesirable outcomes.

  11. Rana Ravens

    Put another way -I have just as much right to sit on my couch watching crappy tv as a person with a third less intelligence does.  It’s MY brain, and I can do with it what I want.

  12. nezua

    and hey, being on foodstamps, i have the right to eat five candybars a day if that is how i like to burn fuel!! i HATE the mentality that poor folks need to never have fun, or buy nice things. sweets and dandies are for the people with big bank. pleasure is not for the povertystricken, ugh. thought patterns of the uppercrustian. (yo chris, what’s the latin name for the Uppercrustian species?)

  13. RobG

    TVO (Ontario) had a fine series in January on The Brain. One of the programs (Brain Man) was about a savant called Daniel Tammet, and the amazing things he could do (recite pi to 20,000 places, learn Icelandic in a week, stuff like that). The bit that stood out for me was at the very end, where Daniel talks about the fine line between what we call “gifted” and what some of us delicately call “basket case”. The greatest gift is joy of life, and bugger all else.

    i am 5

  14. nezua

    RobG, thanks for the laugh bro. us “short” (my height is not “short” given context of my lineage)  types have much better balance. by now i understand how much better a tradeoff that is.

  15. lynD

    Wow. What a bunch of pompous, arrogant, narrow-minded, overweening gasbags. I feel sorry for their kids.

  16. nezua

    ah what a great point about bullies. the irony…so sharp…so sweet. so sad.

    but again…thats the thing about online stuff. i dont think the mob type mentality and actions even happen so easily anywhere in the 3D.

  17. ALotOfCatsAroundHere

    Pardon the antiquated Star Trek reference, but they sound like the Providers in “Gamesters of Triskelion”.

    300 quatloos on the newcomer!

    Jeez, the things I use MY brain for.

  18. Creek Running North reader

    I don’t know whether you’ve accomplished anything in life, but I have to way in and say that this blog isn’t accomplishing anything worth our time. Creek Running North used to be a really important place to go for perspective on politics in the blog world. This site is useless for that. As a person with privilege you have an obligation to speak out on these things.  People of Color can’t walk away from these issues the way you have. Like I said in my email: let us know when you move back to the Creek so that those of us who care about the things that matter can put you back in our reading lists, blogrolls, and etc.

  19. nezua

    Not so brave “reader”:

    It’s disingenuous to speak for anyone other than yourself. I know it probably feels a bit safer, but it’s cowardly. you don’t speak for people of color, nor for all blog readers. So own up to your own thoughts and feelings and then when you’re done, get over your damn self.

  20. nezua

    you are right, space kitty. better not to feed them.

    and sometimes if you want a clear view you have to clean off the bugs every few hundred miles. so jam on that button if you think its best.

  21. arvind

    Creek Running North used to be a really important place to go for perspective on politics in the blog world. This site is useless for that

    You haven’t really been looking. These three posts from the past few months have more perspective on politics in the blog world and the real world that the entire remaining blogosphere put together.

    Now, if what you really wanted was constant perspective on every single blog-spat that arises in the progressive blogosphere every day, then yeah this site absolutely sucks on that front.

  22. Sven DiMilo

    politics in the blog world…the things that matter

    Juxtaposed to imply contradiction.

  23. Creek Running North reader

    Well of course the people who remained here pipe up as the sycophant choir.

    There are important arguments going on in the blog world about, yes, things that matter, but you all just keep pretending the Endangered Desert Mouse is more important than those things. Have fun in your irrelevance. But I still miss the Chris Clark that took the occasional stand.

  24. Chris Clarke

    Know something? If there was a way to read the text of incoming links so that I could block traffic from anyone who had “Creek Running North” in their blogroll, I’d do it in a heartbeat.

    If people are gonna treat the bloggers they read like TV programs, the least they could do would be to stay current with the episodes.

    That Chris Clarke is dead, and good fucking riddance. He caused himself pain trying to work with people who reviled him behind his back, or sometimes not behind his back.

    I’m done pretending the blog drama bullshit is news, and hell yes endangered desert rats are more important to me than who dissed who, or who has the wrong political line on lipstick and blowjobs, or which people delinked which other people, or whose cred has been damaged by other people’s backchanneling. Yes, advocating for intact creosote habitat is more important to me than coddling the bleeding egos of brilliant bloggers just out of high school. And if it’s not more important to you, there’s something wrong with you.

    Perhaps that’s insensitive and privileged of me. If so, I can live with it. I can also live without “readers” like the one whining in this thread.

  25. nezua

    im telling you, chris, it wasnt a whine. it was a squeak of gas hissing out from between two tiny dry mouse ass cheeks.

  26. arvind

    Yes!! Made it to the sycophant choir!

    I’d like to thank the academy for this great honor. *clears throat*

    Ever since I watched Grease as a little kid, I knew I wanted to grow up to be one of those extras dancing in the background. They said I couldn’t make it. They said I had too much “individuality”, that I was too “opinionated”. Well, I showed them, didn’t I? In your face, naysayers!!!11! I’d like to thank all my friends who have been supportive along the way, but especially the ones who shoved me onwards with a roll of the eyes and a “dude!! get with the program already!!” I couldn’t have done it without them.

  27. RobG

    Made it to the sycophant choir!

    The sycophant choir IN AN ECHO CHAMBER, baby! Fucking awesome acoustics.

    I must however take our once-esteemed host to task for referencing Battlestar Galactica without balancing references to Babylon 5. This cannot, nay must not stand.

  28. Chris Clarke

    It no longer works because I pointed out to the moderators that a post where people discussed a third party by name, and agreed that said third party’s personal and professional life could be characterized as a failure, opened the site owners up to a rather easily argued libel suit. They very thoughtfully took the page down, and apparently cleaned up Google caches as well.

  29. Helen

    The Urbanbaby link no longer works, but I’m curious -looking at the site itself, it seems like the last site on which you’d get a mention. Do you have a link to a cached version? What gives with these people?